From: Erica Werner, Associated Press
Published October 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Democrats Ask for Investigation of Reported Changes to Salmon Study

WASHINGTON — House Democrats recently called for an investigation into a report that federal biologists rewrote an analysis that said a water transfer plan could hurt endangered salmon in northern California.


In a letter to the inspectors general of the Interior Department and the Commerce Department, the lawmakers said the report suggested a "catastrophic failure of oversight."


At issue is a recent report in the Sacramento Bee that said federal biologists evaluating the effects of shifting millions of gallons of water to Southern California from rivers in the north were ordered by their superiors to revise a conclusion that the plan would hurt endangered salmon.


Biologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initially found that the water project would harm fish in many rivers in northern California, including salmon in the American River.


But NOAA administrators overruled the findings and supervised a rewriting of the analysis, according to documents obtained by the Bee. An updated version, dated Sept. 27, no longer concluded that winter-run salmon or other fish could face extinction by the extra water diversions.


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The reported actions "may further undermine public confidence in the Bureau of Reclamation's and NOAA fisheries' ability to appropriately manage the resources that the public has entrusted to them," the Democrats wrote.


The letter was signed by 19 House members led by Rep. George Miller, D-California, and including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, top Democrat on the House Resources Committee.


NOAA officials, including the assistant regional administrator who supervised the rewriting, contended the revisions were justified.


"This was just supervisor-employee stuff. I received a draft document that had some errors in it, and when those were corrected it changed the conclusion," said James Lecky, assistant regional administrator for the southwest region for NOAA.


He said he was confident that the conclusion that fish would not be harmed was accurate but noted that a final version of the report still has not been issued.


"What got leaked was a very preliminary draft, and then a subsequent more developed draft that had some different conclusions in it," he said.


Source: Associated Press


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